Sometimes a terrible music movie isn’t such a bad thing.
Good films made by interesting people are mediated creations, in which elements are deleted, themes considered, emphasized, or shaded. From Kevin McAlester’s deft contextualization of the relationship of Roky Erickson's madness to his sublime music in You’re Gonna Miss Me to the balancing act of accomplishment to pitifulness leveled on eternal L.A scenester/DJ Rodney Bingenheimer in The Major of Sunset Strip, there’s all this palpable thinking going on.
No Room for Rockstars (Cinedigm, 2012) isn't hindered by any of that. Whatever it observes about the 2010 Van’s Warped Tour—currently in its 17th year of existence—is just another shiny part of something slick, not terribly stylistically different from, say, an Audi commercial. Touted in the PR as the product of “the team that brought you the highly acclaimed Dogtown and Z-Boys," director Parris Patton’s No Room comes to us with plenty of sheen and literally no idea behind it.
But it’s that very thoughtlessness that allows all manner of cultural stuff to drift to the surface unfiltered, starting with what seems like (and probably is) the Tour’s devolution into absolute, possibly contemptuous, multi-quadrant cynicism, and teetering into issues of class, hyper-capitalism, and the endless, American Idol-style entitlement craze and pathology.
What is Warped? It’s a combination extreme music/sports roadshow started 17 years ago by entrepreneur Kevin Lyman with the sponsorship of skateboard and shoe manufacturer Van’s.
Bikers, skaters, indie labels and zine culture were complemented by left-ish non-profits. From 1993 to 2009, Warped hosted the rocking likes of Andrew W.K., Bring Me the Horizon, Dropkick Murphys, Green Day, NO FX, Parkway Drive, Pennywise and tons more.
The archetypal Warped band was punk and hardcore, but moved on to include metalcore bands like As I Lay Dying, The Devil Wears Prada and the inexplicably ginormous, Warped-playing Asking Alexandria, the rare extreme metal record to reach Billboard’s Top 200 at #9.
But as chronicled in No Room, Lyman—presented here as an distracted enigma wrapped in chinos and a polo shirt—decided in 2010 to expand his tour’s demographic reach to include folkie-emo tweens and R&B-pop teens, and in the process, gladly risk blowing 17 years of alt-culture history for reasons known only to Lyman’s priest, shrink, or accountant. None of Lyman’s many detractors—and they are legion--are represented in the film. Instead we get a guy worshipped by his crew and glimpsed making an apparently legendary bar-B-que. One assumes he signed off on everything in this film. Which means he’s okay with . . . well, let’s look.
The first nu-Warped act we meet is Never Shout Never, the band name of wee Christofer Drew, an adorable 20-year-old acoustic emo troubadour. With his quiff of tousled Bieber-hair and earnest Cat Stevens-esque tunes sure to set tween hearts a-flutter, he’s the film’s artist who falls from innocence.
At first Drew seems too young to buy Gatorade without adult supervision, but a rock star dive from a speaker stack breaks his leg. Immobility leads him to re-think the endless merchandise stands and corporate tie-ins of Warped. He comes to despise how everything—the corporate tie-ins, band tee shirt, belt buckles, jean jacket patches, the endless merch stalls selling boards, drinks, nipple rings, Van’s stuff, Spotify subscriptions, personal style accouterments, and other information and assistance regarding how to officially become an individual—how it’s all become a meaningless, hyper-capitalist shitstorm (I paraphrase). He declares that, after this tour, Warped is dead for him.
Meanwhile, pop/R&B crooner Mike Posner is Drew’s opposite. Posner is . . . well, how to put this?
The arrogant 24 year-old Duke University business grad can’t even thank his fans without smirking. His music is sub-Timberlake Cheez-Whiz performed alone with taped backing tracks to screaming teen girls. His biggest hit is called “Cooler Than Me,” but you know he doesn’t believe such a thing would be possible.
Posner is here to drag an entirely new demographic onto the Warped Tour fairgrounds to buy Monster energy drinks. Posner uses Warped to pimp his record, find new airports from which to jet to LA, guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Live! with Regis and Kelly, and otherwise chill in his luxury bus while ignoring other bands tripled up in stinky buses. Hello, first 1-percent pop star. What a . . . dick.
If Posner and Warped are the film’s Great White sharks, the suckerfish living off their dregs is Forever Came Calling.
A three-piece pop-punk group from Palms, California, Forever follows Warped in a beat-up van, and nags people into buying their demo-CD at every stop. The band has no charisma, and we hear none of their music; all we know about them is their absolute belief that they deserve a slot on the tour because they believe in it, like any other reality show contestant, except this is actually reality. The sad mix of desperation and ego here is often hard to watch.
As children of American Idol culture, Forever is using Warped to leapfrog from obscurity to fame without all the tiresome business of work and music-making. Even as The Team locates the baseless U.S. entitlement hysteria that makes Idol and its variants possible, it decides to turn the Forever story into a mini-Idol narrative itself, compete with a highly dubious finale intended for uplift. The ironies are, of course, lost in the shuffle.
When Suicide Silence actually plays its pummeling "deathcore"—death metal and hardcore mixed—the liveliness of it is almost shocking.
Suicide’s lead screamer is the charming, tatt-covered Mitch Lurker. Lurker has an anxiety disorder that only leaves him when he performs. He’s also got kids and a wife.
In the economic post-apocalypse called the music industry, where big box stores do the Darwin and legal organized crime steals his work (think Spotify, Mog, Pandora), where the only companies who reliably pay you—iTunes and Amazon—do so by the track, as the idea of the album becomes an ancient concept, endless touring is the sole means to solvency.
So I’m glad there’s a Warped for Lurker’s band and family. But at the same time it feels like strivers like Lurker are in the inexorable process of being devalued from stars in the making to something like itinerant day workers.
What Lurker does is singular, special. The Posner type will come and go; Suicide will still be here. Maybe Lyman understood that once, maybe he’s forgotten, clearly this film has no idea. Me, I want more room for rockstars: more is the whole idea, the whole dream.
Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times, gothic.net, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.